Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Trackby Thomas E. Mann, Norman J. Ornstein
Pub. Date: 09/02/2008
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
The Broken Branch offers both a brilliant diagnosis of the cause of Congressional decline and a much-needed blueprint for change, from two experts who understand politics and revere our institutions, but believe that Congress has become deeply dysfunctional. Mann and Ornstein, two of the nation's most renowned and judicious scholars of government and politics,
The Broken Branch offers both a brilliant diagnosis of the cause of Congressional decline and a much-needed blueprint for change, from two experts who understand politics and revere our institutions, but believe that Congress has become deeply dysfunctional. Mann and Ornstein, two of the nation's most renowned and judicious scholars of government and politics, bring to light the historical roots of Congress's current maladies, examining 40 years of uninterrupted Democratic control of the House and the stunning midterm election victory of 1994 that propelled Republicans into the majority in both House and Senate. The byproduct of that long and grueling but ultimately successful Republican campaign, the authors reveal, was a weakened institution bitterly divided between the parties. They highlight the dramatic shift in Congress from a highly decentralized, committee-based institution into a much more regimented one in which party increasingly trumps committee. The resultant changes in the policy processthe demise of regular order, the decline of deliberation, and the weakening of our system of checks and balanceshave all compromised the role of Congress in the American Constitutional system. From tax cuts to the war against Saddam Hussein to a Medicare prescription drug benefit, the Legislative process has been bent to serve immediate presidential interests and have often resulted in poorly crafted and stealthily passed laws. Strong majority leadership in Congress, the authors conclude, led not to a vigorous exertion of congressional authority but to a general passivity in the face of executive power.
Table of Contents
The First Branch of Government: Theory and Practice 14
The Seeds of the Contemporary Problem, 1969-1994 47
A Decade of Republican Control 96
Institutional Decline 141
The Case of Continuity 192
Epilogue: Is the Broken Branch on the Mend? 244
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This work by two scholars describes how partisanship in America has wrecked Congress.
LIKE DeBakey wielding his scalpel, Mann and Ornstein open the Congressional body politic exposing diseased tissue and malfunctioning organs. They diagnose the top ten or more disorders while expressing a palpable disappointment that members of Congress have disregarded the health of the House and Senate, a neglect which is proving deleterious to the well-being of the nation. Scholars of the first rank and influential consultants to Congress on procedure and protocol, these two ¿grizzled veterans¿ draw upon decades of close observation. They understand the two institutions of Article I better than almost anyone except Byrd. Therefore, when they say Congress is sick and needs rehabilitation, we had better believe it because they advance no partisan agenda other than curing that which ails Congress. And they do so for the sake of the three hundred million. MANY OF THE PROBLEMS afflicting Congress are systemic having become ingrained over time under both Democratic and Republican rule and misrule. But they are worse now (2006) than before. To quote Ornstein and Mann: ¿Republicans have far exceeded Democratic abuses of power.¿ One pivotal problem (during the 2000 to 2006 era) was Congressional abdication of legislative oversight of executive branch functions. The authors state that ¿when George Bush became president oversight largely disappeared.¿ Republicans saw ¿themselves as field lieutenants in the president¿s army¿ and therefore refused to perform the oversight function. The consequences have been the policy disasters of which everyone is aware. It is sometimes argued that Congressional oversight of the President and the bureaucracy is the most important responsibility that Congress has, even superseding its ordinary ¿lawmaking¿ function of designing new programs in response to events and agendas advanced by the President and pressure groups. Placing presidential and bureaucratic activity in the sunlight in order to revise existing law and guidelines and impose new restrictions for the purpose of holding the executive accountable and keeping it in check is more important. To forgo that sacred responsibility is to betray the public trust and deserves electoral retribution. (In the case of Walter Reed Hospital and other veteran facilities, why does America have to rely on Imus as enforcer to get Congress to carry out its oversight function pursuant to the Priest-Hull?) AN IMPORTANT COROLLARY of Republicans taking a furlough from oversight is their tolerance of executive branch secrecy. Again, according the authors, Republicans in the 2000-2006 period went beyond what Democrats had done before in shutting off information to the press, public, and Congress itself. When Democrats in Congress wanted information, executive branch officials and Republican leaders combined to stonewall on issues such as information about the 9/11 attacks, proposed missile defense systems, Abu Ghraib, energy policy meetings with Enron and so on. The information refused listed in the book is extensive and demonstrates Bush¿s ¿aggressive denial of information that Congress thought was essential to its work.¿ Even Republican Senator Grassley, known to average citizens outside the beltway as Mr. Ombudsman and Mr. Integrity, expressed frustration at getting access to information declared off limits by the Bush cabal. Combined, absence of oversight and tolerance of secrecy lay the groundwork for forcing American democracy further from freedom and closer to a creeping authoritarianism that once ingrained would be difficult to reverse. SYMPTOMATIC OF THE OVERALL CARELESSNESS with which Congress has proceeded is the issue of continuity of Congress after a catastrophic terrorist event disabling enough Senators or House members to prevent quorums and doing business. In such a case, martial law would prevail indefinitely until legitimate quorums are assembled. Ornstein and Mann consider this an important issue while majorities in Congress do not.